|Defense contractor fraud
Defense contractor fraud remains one of the biggest areas for
False Claims Act litigation. Below are the most common ways defense contractors cheat the
government. Many times a company may be guilty of a combination of schemes.
This is one of the most common types of defense procurement fraud cases. A company
may have one contract that is a "fixed-price" contract, i.e., where the company
receives a fixed price for a certain number of weapons no matter how much it costs to
produce them. The company also may have another contract that is a "cost-plus"
contract, i.e., where the government pays the company for the cost of making the weapons,
plus a percentage of its costs as a profit.
In this circumstance the company has a strong incentive to charge time it spends
working on the fixed-price contract (where it gets paid the same no matter how much time
it takes) to the cost-plus contract (where it gets paid for its costs plus profit). This
may be accomplished by instructing employees to write down on their time cards that they
worked on the cost-plus contract when they actually worked on the fixed-price contract.
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The government frequently specifies that its defense contractors build products using a
certain grade or quality of parts. There often is a further requirement that the parts be
purchased from American companies. Sometimes companies are tempted to provide substitute
(and often inferior) parts that they can get more cheaply from an unauthorized source. If
they do this without getting permission from the government contracting officer, it can
form the basis for a False Claims case.
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Improper Cost Allocation
Improper cost allocation is a more subtle version of the cross-charging scheme. If a
company has both government contracts and private commercial contracts (like most large
aircraft companies), they are supposed to spread (or "allocate") their costs
fairly among the different jobs. With direct costs, such as time a worker spends actually
building an engine or other part for the aircraft, this is a simple matter. If the part
will go into a plane for the government, the cost of building it is charged to the
When the costs are less directly tied to a particular project, such as supervisors'
time, the correct allocation is a little trickier. The temptation is to shift more costs
to the government, which may pay on a cost-plus basis, and away from private customers,
who simply pay the market price for the aircraft. Such cost-shifting allows the companies
to quote lower prices to their commercial customers (gaining a competitive advantage)
without having to absorb the losses for such price cuts.
Companies that deliberately allocate a disproportionate share of "indirect"
or "overhead" costs to the government are committing fraud.
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Failure to comply with contract specifications
Because reliability is critical with expensive and lethal weapons systems, the
Defense Department requires its contractors to build those systems in accordance with very
detailed product specifications. These specifications dictate not only the type of
materials to be used for the contract, but also things like the appropriate quality
assurance steps that the company must follow to ensure the quality of the product.
Although the burdens imposed by the specifications are costly, the government covers those
costs as part of the contractor's payment.
If a company starts to overrun its budget on a contract, particularly a fixed-price
contract, or falls behind in its delivery schedule, it may be tempted to cut corners by
omitting required testing, quality procedures or other steps in the production process. If
company personnel do this intentionally, they and the company are committing fraud against
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Violations of the Truth-in-Negotiations Act (TINA)
When the government wants to buy some extra stealth bombers, it cannot simply solicit the
best bid from a number of different companies. Highly specialized weapons systems often
must be purchased from the single company that already makes them, known as a
The problem for the government is to ensure that it pays a fair price since it cannot
put out the contract for competitive bids. TINA requires the contractor to truthfully
disclose all relevant information about its costs to the government in sole-source
contract negotiations. That way, the government can make an informed decision about what
price is fair to pay for the product.
Companies sometimes are tempted, however, to hold back relevant information, or to
deliberately inflate their projected costs to get a higher price. If such conduct is
deliberate, it can form the basis for a False Claims Act case.
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